India's Reliance Jio has finally opened its much-awaited LTE service to the general public, even if it has stopped short of a full-scale launch.
Reliance Jio is now selling its Lyf-branded smartphones along with 4G SIMs at large retail chain stores in India's biggest cities. The company has also launched a new website, www.jio.com, where interested subscribers can sign up for services, including an offer of unlimited data and 4,500 minutes of calls over a three-month period. (See RJio 4G Vision Starts 'Lyf' and RJio Sputters Into Lyf With 4G 'Launch'.)
RJio procured a pan-India 2.3GHz spectrum license back in 2010 and was expected to launch 4G in December last year. But the service it began offering at that time was made available only to group employees, partners and associates. In May, the company introduced an employee referral program, however, before finally unveiling its Lyf-branded smartphones and 4G SIMs.
Despite the limited availability of the 4G service until now, RJio claimed to have more than half a million 4G subscribers by the end of April 2016. During the Annual General Meeting of parent company Reliance Industries, the operator claimed to have covered about 70% of India's population with about 90,000 towers. By adding another 10,000 towers, RJio reckons it can boost coverage to about 90%. It is believed to be in talks with tower companies, such as Bharti Infratel and American Tower Corp. (NYSE: AMT), about increasing its tower footprint in the country.
RJio is also holding discussions with government-owned Bharat Sanchar Nigam Ltd. (BSNL) to fortify its offering. Because it lacks any 2G or 3G infrastructure, the operator is relying on voice-over-LTE technology to support voice services. If it can gain access to BSNL's infrastructure, users will be able to make calls even when there is no 4G connectivity. BSNL is believed to have one of the best 2G networks in India, especially in the country's hinterland. Another option could be the network of Reliance Communications Ltd. , which already has some agreements in place with RJio.
As one of the biggest startups in the telecom industry, RJio entry is expected to have a disruptive impact. But a series of delays to the launch of its services has allowed rivals, including Bharti Airtel Ltd. (Mumbai: BHARTIARTL), Vodafone India and Idea Cellular Ltd. , to build up a valuable lead in the 4G market. Those players have not only launched 4G but also extended their networks into a significant number of towns and cities in the last six to nine months. Bharti Airtel has also been able to acquire spectrum from Videocon and Aircel, giving it a pan-India 4G capability. (See RJio's 4G Hold-Ups May Benefit Incumbents .)
— Gagandeep Kaur, contributing editor, special to Light Reading